Hemp vs. Marijuana: What’s the Difference?

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In modern times, the general population’s overall interest in cannabis has boomed. With this comes a great spread of misinformation and confusion between different aspects of the plant itself. The difference between the two primary species of hemp and marijuana falls into this hole of perplexity.

Hemp and marijuana are two different species that are cultivated and used in different ways. It is important to understand the difference between the two, because without the proper knowledge about each one of these types, distortions of the truth can be apparent which can lead to issues within society.

For knowledge about the difference between marijuana and hemp, continue reading below for clarification!

What is Marijuana

Dubbed as such by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, cannabis stems from India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Cannabis was originally harvested for its seeds, fiber content and use in the production of hashish.  

One of the most confusing aspects of the cannabis plant is differentiating marijuana from hemp. Cannabis plants can be either male, female, or hermaphrodite. Females are one of the most common genders of the plant. The male plants pollinate the female plants and allows them to create flowers, otherwise known as buds. Buds are located on the leaves of female cannabis plants. Once fully pollinated and grown, the flowers are capable of creating secrete sticky resin that eventually, when picked, turn into the marijuana most people are familiar with. While there are both male and female plants, a rare version, a hermaphrodite plant, are capable of pollinating and producing buds by themselves.

Another important factor of marijuana is its chemical makeup. There are over 400 chemicals that exist in the consumable part of the marijuana. Two of the most pertinent are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the psychoactive chemical that creates the feeling of being “high”. CBD is the chemical in weed that has amazing healing and treatment properties. Consuming marijuana can treat anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia, and aid in physical issues like seizures.

Marijuana has many other names such as cannabis, weed, pot, reefer, ganja, and many others.

What’s Hemp

Hemp, or industrial hemp, is one of the species of the cannabis sativa plant. Interestingly, cannabis can be from either the indica of sativa families, while all hemp is sativa.  Hemp is any type of the cannabis plant that does not contain high levels of THC. The common misconception that people have with hemp is that it is just like consumable marijuana, it can get you “high”. This is not accurate, though. In fact, if you try smoking hemp, your body and lungs will not tolerate it. The level of THC existent in hemp is significantly lower than that of a marijuana plant. Typically, the levels of THC in hemp measure from a range of 0.1%-0.3%.

Hemp is a multipurpose plant. Products made of industrial hemp are natural and durable and can improve environmental issues such as global warming and toxicity in landfills. Hemp can replace products like plastic and better our earth as well. Fabrics and lotions made of hemp fibers are also said to be great for the skin due to its ability to moisturize your pores without clogging the skin.

In early colonial times, hemp was able to be grown legally. This is because the government and private companies during that time period knew there were many benefits to its use. In fact, the first drafts of the Declaration of Independence were even written on processed hemp paper! People and civilizations all over the world used hemp for multifunctional purposes and it should be used again in our environment because we would all benefit greatly.

Uses of Hemp

The hemp plant is divided into 4 main parts which include the seeds, the leaves, the stem, and the roots, which divide into further sub parts. Each section of the plant has its own environmentally friendly and humanistic benefits.


For example, the seeds of hemp plants can be categorized into 3 parts: the nut, the oil, and the cake. The hemp seed is very nutritious which makes it great for cooking and cosmetic purposes. It’s said to be a source of protein and vitamin E. 

Industrial Uses

Next, the stalk is best for materials like biofuel or cardboard. It can help address many environmental concerns such as fossil fuels, soil degradation, irrigation, toxic pesticides, and much more. The hemp stalk hurd, the woody portion of the hemp stalk, is most beneficial for the environment in terms of its ability to be used as mulch, insulation, animal bedding, and more.

Clothing and Fabric

The bast fiber, which is the outer layer of the stalk, is great for eco-friendly fabrics such as clothing, carpeting, and shoes. It’s said to be the strongest natural fiber in existence. The final part of the hemp plant, the roots, although tend to be often forgotten, are said to have the most medicinal properties.

Lipids and sugars are located in the roots, allowing them to have plenty of antioxidant, antibiotic, and diuretic properties. Due to low amounts of both THC and CBD located here, most people throw out the roots once the plant is fully grown. 

Hemp has properties to replace many toxic materials in our environment, including gasoline. Henry Ford even developed and designed the first hemp-powered automobile in the 1940s. Rudolf Diesel also designed the first diesel engine to run on vegetable and natural oils like hemp. With this, our environment could be sustained cleaner and more natural, as hemp is a renewable resource that doesn’t pollute the air as gasoline does.

Plastic Alternative

Hemp can also replace plastic with a biodegradable, yet durable, material. Plastic levels are accelerating rapidly in today’s society which is leading to environmental issues like marine and landfill pollution. Hemp is biodegradable, which will allow for the natural degradation of this material. Being that hemp is a plant, over time, it will eventually breakdown, unlike plastic, which takes much longer and hurts the environment.

Wood Substitute

Hemp can also be used to make wood using the stem fibers, for construction purposes. If building a home, hemp absorbs the exact amount of carbon dioxide necessary and also sound proofs the structure. The hemp crop only takes approximately 4 months to grow and does not need excess chemicals and pesticides. It also acts as its own weed killer which is beneficial for the grower.

Plenty of options exist for hemp usage in the world, so it is important to not confuse it with marijuana.


Cannabis family

chemical profile






Low THC Levels (<0.3%)


Low maintenance. Can grow in most climates.

Used in many industrial and retail products


Sativa, Indica, or Hybrid

High THC Levels



High maintenance. Requires controlled climate.

Recreational or Medicinal ingestion

Legality of Hemp and Marijuana

In 1937, hemp was criminalized in the United States because of how the whole cannabis plant was deemed illegal. Thankfully, as of December 2018, hemp has been re-legalized in the US after the signing of the 2018 Farm Bill.

The legality of marijuana depends on the state and form of use, which is either recreational or medicinal. In the past, marijuana was legal before 1937, and it was deemed illegal due to the supposed dangerous nature of the plant.

Thankfully, as of recent times, states are noticing marijuana’s beneficial properties and legalizing it both medically and recreationally. As of right now, there are 10 states in the US that have fully legalized marijuana: Alaska, California, Nevada, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine. Other states have either legalized only medical marijuana or decriminalized marijuana, but there are many that still have marijuana declared as fully illegal. Various states are focused on different laws on the path to legalizing marijuana, whether legalizing the use or possession.


With this knowledge about the differences between marijuana and hemp, it is important to understand how beneficial both are in their own ways. Although hemp and marijuana are both forms of the cannabis plant, their uses are entirely different. Hemp is used for industrial purposes like producing raw materials, beauty products, and more, and marijuana is for recreational and medical benefits and use. Recognizing that both hemp and marijuana are different and special in their own ways, it is important to not group them in together!

Brian Cooper

About Brian Cooper

Brian Cooper is a lifelong resident of Ohio and has been an advocate of cannabis use for many years. When not partaking, Brian enjoys to hike, ride his bike, and play guitar. Brian started ExpertsofHerb in 2014.